What happened shouldn't be surprising, considering this happens every time. And yet, the sight of my brother lying on the ground dead makes me want to lie down next to him and die too.
In my city, blackouts are more common than car crashes. No one knows why they happen, but every time the lights go out everyone knows that someone's gonna die. The blackouts started in March last year. It's now June, and the 15 month anniversary of the first death. She wasn't even from here, but I guess place of origin doesn't matter for most killers. She used to go to the local college and was a chemistry major. I guess college majors don't matter to most killers either.
The next blackout happened just a week after the first one. We didn't know what to expect then, so we just stayed inside. My brother and I sat in our apartment, on my little twin bed, making shadow puppets with flashlights. We fell asleep later that night, on my mint green comforter. We woke up the next morning to find our neighbors dead.
The neighbors were an elderly couple, who had immigrated from France in the 40s. Every weekend when he was little, my brother and I would go over to their apartment and sit while they told us stories of what it was like back then. My brother was always fascinated with their tales, and every time when we’d go back to our home, he’d tell our mom all about how he wanted to go to France someday. Sometimes, our neighbors would cook something that reminded them of their first home. They’d serve it to us on a fine china platter, then tell us all their memories of eating it as a kid. I guess memories don’t matter to killers, because whoever killed them left their heads on a stick.
The day after they died, after the police had done an investigation, we found out that they had left a few things for us. My brother and I were entrusted with the platter that they had served us with all those years ago. My brother, only 9 at the time of their death, had been left with their photographs of Paris. I still remember him sitting on our bed, holding the photographs asking, “Why don’t they need them anymore?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.
The day after the funeral, there was another blackout. At that point, I was starting to be more wary. I made sure that my brother was safe next to me, and that my mom was still okay, reading her books in bed. During the third blackout, there was a huge storm. I heard the raindrops pitter-pattering against our roof, trying not to imagine that among those raindrops could be a killer. A few hours into the blackout, lightning flashed right by our window. My brother screamed, and I screamed with him. Carrying him, I ran over to my mom’s bedroom. She was asleep, and she looked like she was having a nightmare. I climbed into bed with her, my brother coming with me. As I snuggled under the sheets, I felt an overwhelming sadness. What if we all died that night? At least we’ll die together. I fell asleep after that.
Next morning, we woke up to find my mom sitting on the sofa, watching TV while eating a bowl of cereal. I got a glass of water from the kitchen then sat down next to her. Through a mouthful of cereal, she told me that someone else had died the previous night. I could feel my mouth go dry. “Who?” was all I could manage to muster.
“No one we know. It won’t impact us.” A thousand thoughts rushed into my head when she said that. What if it was one of us next time? Would someone living on the other side of the city say the same thing? If it were my face on that TV, what would she say? But all I could manage to do was nod my head and walk away.
The blackouts happened time and time again, each time with someone showing up dead. Most people have started leaving the city, but some like us are forced to stay. We didn’t have a way out, and so we were forced to wait out every blackout in the closet, a flashlight and gun pointed towards the door at all times. The police weren’t able to do anything, and because most of them could, almost all of them left. I don’t remember most of the deaths very well, except for a few.
The night that my best friend Annabelle and her family were supposed to leave, there was a blackout. I still don’t know exactly what happened, but when the power came back on in the middle of the night, my best friend found her mother’s corpse bleeding out in the shower. I remember how she called me at what must have been 1 am, crying. I don’t think that I’ll ever forget the pain in her voice when she told me what happened.
In October of last year, there was a blackout on Halloween. I remember because my brother screamed and cried when he heard he couldn’t go trick-or-treating. He kept trying to run at the door, as though if he ran at it hard enough, he could break through and escape. If it were any other situation, and if Annabelle’s mother had not just died a few weeks prior, I would’ve taken him. It physically pained me to see him cry, but I knew that if he died I would’ve never forgiven myself. And so, I read him Halloween books in the closet, my mom keeping watch. It turned out that some people had gone trick-or-treating the night before. Their bloody bodies in the street the next morning almost seemed like Halloween decorations.
Christmas morning, a daughter on the other side of town woke up to her family’s heads on the Christmas tree. No one even noticed that there had been a blackout. The police would later find that the family’s bodies were in the presents. I prayed that it was a cruel joke, as though the next segment would show the family jumping out and surprising her.
During spring break, my mom surprised me and my brother with an atlas. She told us, “Once I get the money, we can go anywhere you want. Just bookmark the page and we’ll go there.” My brother was ecstatic. As soon as he got it, he jumped up and ran to our room. He got out his pencils and started flipping through the pages, marking out and circling everywhere he wanted to go and everything he found interesting. I just laughed and stood next to him. That was what it was supposed to be like. If the blackouts had never happened, if we could just be regular people and not have to fear for our lives every night. I wanted to be a regular highschooler, go to school, talk to boys. I wanted my biggest worry to be if someone liked me or not, not if I was going to live or not.
The first evening of summer, we had a blackout. I didn’t think much of it because it was summer and the past few had been on the other side of town. My brother wanted to run around the apartment a little, and I said yes as long as he was quiet. He promised.
I stayed in the bedroom doorway, and watched as he ran around, throwing a paper airplane and laughing silently. It was like a movie. He stopped all of a sudden, and told me he needed to go to the bathroom. I said yes, and started to get up to walk with him. He said no, he was a big boy now. He said that he could go by himself. I laughed and told him that I’d think about it. It would be okay, I thought. He was just going to go to the bathroom. The other few had been on the other side of town. It was probably going to stay that way. Barely anyone lived here anymore. And as much as I refused to accept it, my brother was growing up. He’d be safe. I smiled and nodded. He beamed brightly, like the 10 year old he was supposed to be.
“I love you!” He said to me.
“I love you too.”
That was the last thing I ever said to him.
My brother didn’t come back in the next couple minutes. I never heard the toilet flush. It’ll be okay, I thought to myself. He’s growing up.
I waited another few minutes, then called my mom. She ran up with me, holding the gun and the flashlight. Cautiously, we creeped into the bathroom. I banged open the door and my mom pointed the gun into the bathroom. No one was there except for my brother, sitting on the toilet. “What are you doing? Do you know how worried we were?” I scolded. He didn’t react. I edged back as far as I could in the little bathroom. I watched as his head loomed forward, and the truth came into my mind. No. No. I ran forward at the same time my brother’s corpse fell to the ground. I will never forget how my mom screamed when she saw the blood trickle out of his mouth.
It’s been a month since my brother died. When the police tried to come and interview us after his death, my mom threatened to shoot them. I can’t blame her. Death isn’t something that you use for profit. It’ll never be the same. The apartment feels empty without him.
Everywhere I look, there is something that reminds me of him. I see the atlas our mom got us on the shelf in the living room and think of when he first got it. Everyday, I think of the places he wanted to go and how he’ll never get to go there. I think of how much he’s wanted to go to France ever since he was 5, when he would sit at our neighbor’s dining table, staring at them in awe when they told him about France. I go to my room and see my comforter, still the same one from the first blackout. The mint green seems so much less bright after he’s gone. I don’t go to our room much anymore, because everywhere I go there’s memories of him. Sometimes, I hope it’s all a joke. Some nights, I go to sleep crying because I can’t deal with it all. My mom isn’t any better either. She’s shut off, stopped talking about him. It’s like he doesn’t exist. She doesn’t look at his old paintings on the fridge or acknowledge his old toys. I don’t think we’ll ever recover.
It is now the one year anniversary of my brother’s death, and yet the wound still stings. There haven’t been any more blackouts, and I doubt that there will be anymore. I still think of my brother’s dreams of traveling sometimes, going to France, seeing the Eiffel Tower. I think of his hopes and all the things he could’ve done. All of his aspirations, all the games that we used to play when he was little. All of the things that we could’ve done. Everything that could’ve happened if he weren’t dead, but I guess dreams don’t matter to killers.
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I like how fast moving your story is, Sophie. My curiosity kept me interested in what was happening and it was tragic when the little brother died. The nightmare of his death was very real.
This was so gripping, Sophie!! The pace was excellent and I found myself wanting to jump ahead to find out how everyone was being killed - I still have so many questions! This was such a sad but powerful mystery story.
Thank you so much!